Leaky Oil Pans and Ministry

by J. Grant Swank, Jr.

That ‘87 Nissan was giving me the run-around again. And it was flying bucks out of my wallet, too. Should I get rid of it? Let it sit and rust? Or keep tugging away at its innards in hopes of keeping it going?

This time, Dana-a young man I'd recently met at the local oil-change emporium-told me he could fix the oil pan leak from his front yard garage! He would work on the car by stretching out on the green grass of summer beneath that metal hulk.

"Go to it," I replied, glad to see the auto in someone else's hands. With that, I went on with my business, which is tending to souls and the doings of eternity.

The first day he started working on the car, while he was sliding his frame beneath the Nissan, and talking inconsequentially about this and that, Dana dropped a bombshell: "My mom is dying of cancer."

Dana and his mother lived by the lake, in one of a row of homes-some mobile units, others stick homes, and a few cottages for summer dwellers only. Several other autos were dotting Dana's yard, waiting in line for his mechanic skills.

"I don't think she has much longer for this world," Dana continued. "My dad died not too long ago. He was in so much pain that he just stopped eating. We couldn't get him to eat a thing." I stared at the humble home. It now appeared lonesome, in need of a big hug.

"Say, since you're a minister (something he'd just learned), would you be able to stay for a few minutes to have prayer with my mom?"

With that, the two of us walked through his front door where I met Dana's mother for the first time. "She can't hear all that well. You'll have to speak up for her to hear you," said Dana.

I did just that. I spoke loudly into her "good ear." She nodded her head, indicating that she heard me. When I said, "Amen," she echoed an "Amen," too. Good, mission accomplished!

I looked at the young fellow and said, "Dana, I will be back to pray with your mother. We will be praying for you, too. And when our believing friends meet this evening for Bible study and prayer, we will remember your mother in our petitions to the Father in heaven."

His eyes filled up with tears. Not everyone talked that way to Dana. "I do appreciate it. I really do. You'll never know. I didn't know that when you asked me to work on your car I would end up meeting a minister. This means a lot to me."

I left his home and went on with the errands of that day. But when we gathered for worship that evening, Mrs. Manchester and her family were at the top of our prayer list-and greeting card list.

Our phone rang on Sunday morning, early. My wife handed me the phone. "This is Dana." He was crying. "Mom is not doing well at all. Do you think you could come over for a prayer with mom? It would mean so much to her-and to me, too."

Other cars were parked outside when I reached their home. Family members must have been told of the severity of Mrs. Manchester's condition.

Inside, Dana led me to his mother's room. She was propped up on pillows, her arms folded, seemingly guarding her chest from the intense pain.

I prayed for Mrs. Manchester. I prayed for Dana. I prayed for all the family. Then I read the familiar psalm of our Good Shepherd: "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…."

Tears were gathering in Dana's eyes, but his mother looked straight into my face, picking up every word, reading my lips when she had difficulty hearing.

As I reached the close of the psalm, she nodded her head. I knew she had heard it all. I knew also she had received a loving touch from God.

As Dana and I walked outside he asked, "Pastor, would you oversee the funeral?" Of course. It would be my privilege.

While driving back home that Sunday morning, I thought back to the leaking oil pan in a l987 Nissan. What a nuisance and expense that second-hand car had been. But all that faded away. In place of a bothersome Nissan was a dying mother's face and an anxious son's aching heart.

God does work in mysterious ways. And when He works, He knows exactly what He is doing. Even when He has to resort to a leaky oil pan.

J. Grant Swank, Jr., pastors New Hope Church, Windham ME